Beauty and the Brand: Kokopelli's

A Creator's focus on aesthetics and desirability is perfect for chocolate products. What else makes a great Creator brand?

You can see from the photograph above that chocolate + creativity is a winning combination. This is just one of many types of beautiful (and delicious) chocolates made by Kokopelli’s Chocolate, an artisan chocolate brand from London.

The photograph was taken by Steph Saffer, the creator of Kokopelli's.

Kokopelli’s is a wonderful example of how the Creator archetype can be brought to life through great branding. What can we learn from them about building a strong Creator brand?

Creator brands master 5 key skills

If you’ve come across the idea of brand archetypes before, for example in Mark & Pearson’s excellent The Hero and The Outlaw, you will be familiar with the Creator as an imaginative, inventive and somewhat perfectionist character who is motivated by creating things of enduring value. Of course, brands are not just characters: to be successful in a competitive market, brands need to perform effectively and deliver products and services in a way that helps them stand out from the competition.

At opento, we’ve analysed dozens of Creator brands across industries and geographies and come to the conclusion that there is skillset that great Creator brands, like Kokopelli’s Chocolate, have mastered.

These skills are: connected storytelling, crafting with care, sensory stimulation, keeping it fresh and showing your passion

Connected storytelling

“Kokopelli” is a character from Native American and meso-American mythology, a fertility deity probably based on wandering traders. The Kokopelli’s brand does a lovely job of telling us the story of this character. From a marketing perspective, it’s not just a well-told story but a story linking the Kokopelli character to cocoa beans and to the role of chocolate in love and desire. This ‘connected’ storytelling overlaps the world of the Kokopelli chocolate brand with the rich mythological world of the meso-American Kokopelli legend and inextricably links them together. This is what good brand stories are really about: connected storytelling.  All brands need to do this but Creator brands are often particularly good at building these vivid and rich storyworlds.

Crafting with care

Typically, Creators have a need to take artistic control of what is produced. You’ve heard the stories of Steve Jobs and his demand for improving and refining Apple products to meet his stretching vision.

So you won’t be surprised to see from the product photography that Kokopelli’s chocolates are painstakingly sculpted and there is a high degree of attention to detail in making them. Kokopelli’s takes pride in quality and handcrafted details, saying “we craft fresh, exquisite chocolates in bright flavours, all made by hand”.

Sensory Stimulation

Creators love to bring ideas to life and make them interact with our senses. Few things beat the colors, smells and tastes of real food products for sensory stimulation and Creator food brands use as many senses as they can. In an online environment, visual stimulation is particularly powerful. You can see how Creator brands like Kokopelli’s often use close product shots, magnifying the product to show it in great detail.

Kokopelli’s also applies a meso-American colour palette and visual style throughout all their branding – their website, their packaging and the decorations on the surface of their products. All of this visual seduction draws us in and helps us feel closer to the brand.

Keeping it fresh

Creator brands always seem to have something new coming down the line. For more than 20 years, Apple has ensured that its customers eagerly anticipate the next great thing from the brand. It’s important for a Creator brand to be able to deliver freshness and innovation. One way to do that is to build seasonal innovation into your products and services. For example, Kokopelli’s does this by regularly featuring new products or selections for Valentine’s, Easter and other calendar events. As all of Kokopelli’s products are handmade and fresh, the additional complexity of one-off products probably only adds a little complexity and cost of production but significantly enhances the brand’s energy and freshness.

Showing your passion

Creators are typically among the biggest fans of the products they create and are not afraid to show it. Here’s a typical tweet from @Kokopellis_Choc: “Must admit I'm glad I made a little leftover ganache from these as it's a bit moreish... :)”

That’s a great brand voice for a Creator brand.

The challenge of being a Creator brand

The biggest challenge for a Creator brand is often not a branding one but about how to find a business model that enables them to manage growth.

A need for high levels of innovation based on a clear vision of how it should look and feel can limit the scope of a Creator brand to the creative individual who built the business and many Creator brands face dilemmas when they become big or mature.

There are some smart ways to handle that. For example, inspiring other people to become Creators themselves is a good move for such brands. Kokopelli’s Chocolate Workshops do this. We can all enjoy learning to be a little bit creative with chocolate – even if we never quite reach Kokopelli’s level of perfection.

So, opento’s recipe for Creator brand success has 5 ingredients: connected storytelling, crafting with care, sensory stimulation, keeping it fresh and showing your passion. We think Kokopelli’s is doing a great job of mixing all those ingredients into a beautiful Creator brand as well as tackling the challenges of a Creator business model.

It's Kokopelli's 1st birthday this month - a perfect time to check out a young Creator brand and their products. Then tell us what you think of them as a Creator brand.

Build your own Creator brand

At opento, we've put together a system of products to help you with building brands based on archetypes. To discover a positioning area for your brand, visit our brand positioning store and try one of our products.

A brand is not a person

Brand Archetypes are a powerful way to start thinking about how to position your brand. But don’t oversimplify archetypes and brand positioning: it’s not just about characters and personalities.

Last weekend I bought a gift for a friend who enjoys Scotch whisky. There were a few brands on the shelf that could be described as having very similar personalities: traditional, confident, sophisticated and masculine. I chose the Lagavulin because I know that my friend particularly enjoys the peaty flavour of Islay malts.

Does that mean brand personality is irrelevant to whisky positioning? No, just that it is only one element in building a successful brand and how well a product or service ‘does the job’ (in this case, delivering a very recognizable flavour profile) is equally important. When I think about peaty Islay flavor, Lagavulin comes to mind. Lagavulin has positioned itself very well by ‘owning’ that link in my memory.

The power of the subconscious

Ries & Trout’s made the point very well 30 years ago in their book Positioning: brands should ‘own’ a position in the customer’s mind and ‘get into the collective subconscious of the market’. That advice is now supported by evidence from neuroscience and psychology that shows how our decision-making is mainly non-conscious and driven primarily by emotional triggers.

Inspired by the idea of non-conscious decision-making, for many years we’ve been using Brand Archetypes as a way of developing brand positioning options. We base our frameworks on the 12-archetype model described in Mark & Pearson’s The Hero and The Outlaw. That model has the great advantage of being grounded in psychology and recognizes the power of the collective unconscious that Ries & Trout emphasized.

Archetypes and the subconscious

The origins of archetype theory lie in the notion that we all collectively share innate understanding of certain types of ideas and meanings, including the meaning of recognizable ‘characters’. These characters are found, for example, in folk tales where we can recognize the hero, the baddie, the lover, the wise sage etc.

Thinking about brands as similar to ‘characters’ (such as a Hero, an Outlaw etc.) is a quick way into positioning territories and a clear guide for all those words that need to go into the “Brand Personality” box on brand positioning documents: so a Hero brand might be brave, disciplined and tenacious whilst an Outlaw brand might be provocative, unconventional and rebellious. This focus on personality has been especially helpful in guiding thinking about advertising and brand communications.

Beyond Brand Personality

Obviously a brand isn’t really a person or a character or just a set of personality dimensions. As in my malt whisky example, two brands can have very similar personalities but one might just do a better job of being a welcome gift. That’s not about personality: it’s about the product and its sensory character. Recent neuroscience tells us that deep, meaningful, non-conscious brand associations are built from many inputs including sensory inputs, bodily experiences and emotions.  All of these (and more) create a brand’s positioning and meaning.

We’ve taken brand archetypes beyond personality and character for 3 reasons:

  1. Focus on personality has often led people to pay too little attention to how product and service quality influences meaning. In real life, brands need to not only have an appealing personality, they must perform effectively, play a role in customers’ lives and ‘do the job’.
  2. The idea of brands as characters talking to customers is outdated. As Doug Scott of Ogilvy Entertainment recently emphasized, technology changes mean that storytelling is no longer one way; audiences are active in brand creation. Scott argues that agencies need to offer Transmedia Storytelling, creating storyworlds rather than storylines. My choice of Lagavulin is no doubt influenced by its association with a romantic storyworld of Islay: the ruined castle, the illegal stills and the men who fought with Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. I don’t need to know the stories to choose Lagavulin but there is a brand world that adds richness to my ideas about the brand if I wish to enter it and provides creative inspiration for Lagavulin’s brand management.
  3. Strong brands do not just exist as characters in people’s lives; strong brands create a conscious and non-conscious brand ‘world’ that is composed of a network of many different types of associations: personality associations, but also sensory, experiential and other associations. The job of the marketer is to build those associations over time to be stable and resilient – just as the Lagavulin brand managers have done with a collection of flavor, place and storytelling associations.


Creating your brand world

Brands owners need to create worlds in which customers feel welcome and able to participate. That doesn’t mean falling into the trap of being blandly ‘nice and approachable’ or unchallenging; one lesson of thinking about brands archetypally is that powerful meaning comes from realistic nuances.

So, the Lagavulin world depicted (from our analysis) below contains all the cognitive aspects with which we are familiar about price, brand name etc. It is also a world of sophisticated and challenging sensory associations, populated with natural objects such as mountains and water and delivering challenging experiences of exploration. In archetypal terms, this is a world of heroes and chieftains but also of family and community.

Lagavulin Brand World.png

We use this model within the brand archetype framework to guide the type of Brand World that could and should be built by each archetype. There are many different types of Hero world and many different types of Outlaw world. As marketers, our job is to build those worlds and keep them vibrant and alive and also to trigger the customer’s evocative memory of our brand world at the point of purchase decision.

Putting it into practice

At opento, we've been using these ideas in our brand positioning frameworks with many different types of brands and in many markets.

We've now put together a system of products to help you with building brands based on archetypes. Find out more and explore our products by visiting our store.

Brand-Centered Businesses

Brand-centered businesses significantly outperform their competitors, with almost double their profit margins yet start-ups often lack a brand focus, thinking that 'brand' is an add-on for later. In fact it should be the starting point of business model thinking.

Product-market fit is the holy grail of lean start-up thinking. Who could disagree with Mark Andreesson’s much-quoted “the only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit”?

Yet it only takes a moment’s thought to know that we don’t buy products, we buy brands: just think about the $29.99 own-brand T-shirt above compared to a functionally identical designer version priced at $150.

Owners of successful brands have known this for a long time but the same rules apply to start-ups and small businesses: your customers buy your brand - not your product.

And that means a different way of thinking about business models. It’s about brand-market fit not product-market fit.

Brand-market fit vs. product-market fit

In March 2013, googling for “product-market fit” gave me over 900,000 hits and “brand-market fit” a few hundred hits. It’s obvious that the conversations is currently about the product rather than the brand. It’s time to redress the balance!

The fact is that marketing science, psychology and now neuroscience tells us that we make choices not based on rational, functional, carefully-considered product features but on fast, emotional gut feelings and instincts linked to brand associations and brand meaning.

Andre Reynolds of Vibrant Media describes a perfect example of this, telling how he chose a pair of fashionable boots rather than another functionally superior pair – even after carefully assessing the functional job-to-be-done:

“I’m buying into something for reasons that are less purpose and more look and feel… what I walk out with is based on which product does a better job of conveying what I want to imply about myself.”

Andre describes this as brands ‘incorporating his lifestyle’ and pleads “Are you there brands? It’s me, Andre.”  In other words, the job-to-be-done idea and pains/gains thinking needs to take into account powerful emotional factors that beat the rational considerations every day.

The challenge for anyone creating a business (and brand) is that these emotional factors mostly operate at a non-conscious level and customers are often unable (or even unwilling) to express them.  Not everyone is as perceptive as Andre.

Fortunately, there are tried and tested psychological models to help us with the challenge of understanding how products can convey  “what I want to imply about myself” and help us tap into the power of non-conscious emotions.

Archetypes and Brands

The most developed and tested of these models is based on brand archetypes, described, for example. in Mark & Pearson’s excellent The Hero and The Outlaw.

The origins of archetype theory lie in the notion that we all collectively share innate understanding of certain types of ideas and meanings, including the meaning of recognizable ‘characters’. These characters are found, for example, in folk tales where we can recognize the hero, the baddie, the lover, the wise sage etc.

In Andre Reynolds' example above of buying boots, he describes a critical trigger of an in-store poster showing "a man wearing a rather long taupe trench coat blowing ever so slightly in the wind. He was walking through the city, carrying a cup of coffee in sleek brown leather gloves" - and wearing the desired boots of course. We might discover that the brand was tapping into an archetype of "sophisticated urbanite in touch with nature" that coincided well with Andre's desired identity.

It is this connection between the brand's associations and the customer's psychology that underpins brand-market fit and the archetypes model gives us a clear structure to use in finding that fit.

Products matter – a lot!

You might think from the example of Andre's boots above that products don't matter and the power and meaning of a brand come from 'marketing' - such as an in-store poster. In fact, the same research in psychology and neuroscience tells us that product (and service) experiences are vital to building all those associations: there is a 'right' type of boot for a sophisticated urbanite and it probably differs from the right type of boot for an adventurous sportswoman.

Products need to perform and do the job effectively. If Andre's boots fall apart after a few urban walks the most brilliant advertising poster isn't going to persuade him again. Reliable performance is another way to build positive brand associations.

What does it mean to be brand-centered?

Booz Allen Hamilton published research showing that brand-guided companies “have profitability margins nearly twice the industry standard” across a range of different industries.

They describe how brand-centered companies have clearly-defined brand values, a brand-led approach to key activities such as product development and customer service and employees who are genuinely “living the brand”.

To achieve this, the first thing a company has to do is “to define the market position it aspires to” and develop its brand proposition.

In other words, a competitive brand positioning is at the heart of the business for these more profitable companies.

That is why, at opento, we put brand at the center of our thinking on business models. Brand-centered business models ensure that the business assets and capabilities deliver the correct brand competences to meet the key customer needs.

Putting it into practice

We all know that start-ups and lean businesses can rarely afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on developing a brand positioning before working on their business model. And even large, profitable companies are challenging traditional costly and time-consuming approaches.

At opento, we've been using these ideas in our business model frameworks with many different types of brands and in many markets.

We've now put together a system of products to help you design, test and optimize your business model cost-effectively Find out more and explore our products by visiting the opento store.